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xDavid Knell

Websites on Television

An Introduction to WebTV

October 2001

Part One | Part Two


Web designers have long bemoaned the difficulties in creating pages that look equally good in different browsers. Most people use Internet Explorer but designers cannot afford to ignore the roughly 20% that use Netscape Navigator or other browsers - and those browsers all present their pages in different ways.

With the increasing popularity of broadcast media such as WebTV, designers are confronted with a whole new set of rules altogether.


In September 1996, Sony and Phillips introduced the first WebTV set-top boxes from WebTV Networks, Inc. They became known as WebTV Classic, sometimes called the WebTV Internet Terminal. In December 1997, a second generation of set-top box known as the WebTV Plus was introduced, a unit which includes a TV tuner and integrates the TV and web worlds. Other network computer (NC) devices are to follow.

The Basics

A computer monitor and a television set may seem superficially similar but in fact they are very different. A TV screen operates at a much lower resolution than a computer monitor. Unlike a monitor, a TV was designed to be viewed at a distance.

The Internet, on the other hand, was generally designed to be seen close up. The WebTV browser tries to overcome that problem by manipulating text and images so that they look better on a TV screen. Without WebTV's technology, text would flicker on a TV screen and be very difficult to read.

But the way in which the WebTV browser manipulates web pages is very different to the browsers used on computers and the results can be quite surprising for an unprepared web designer. Take a look at these screenshots of the front page of Romulus 2 in standard computer browsers:

Internet Explorer

Netscape Navigator

The differences are only slight. Now, take a look at that same front page in the WebTV (recently renamed MSN TV) browser:

WebTV browser

It's a whole new world! Let's examine the points in more detail . . .


Continued . . .

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